January 4, 2021
Stories. As you probably know by now, I love stories. Those I share are primarily hopeful and aspirational, holding the energies of love, joy, peace, and light. But the story I want to share today is one of honor. For not only are those stories important, they seem especially relevant for what’s unfolding in our country right now. Especially as we now hear the saber rattling of possible civil war.
It seems there is and always has been war. Always soldiers. And always stories of war and warriors. For forty five years I have been partnered with and married to a warrior, a veteran of the Vietnam war. Those battle scars will never go away. And in this time of threats of domestic violence and wishful thinking among our electeds that the military would participate, Dennis has mentioned several times the oath he took as a soldier. An oath to defend our constitution. An oath as meaningful for him today as it was when he took it decades ago.
Then this story found me in the last few days. A story of those who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. A story of honor and dedication to an ideal, a code, an ethic, that is at the very heart of that oath Dennis took long ago. While politicians and even military leaders often choose dubious and even nefarious courses of action, I am struck by the core ethic of integrity and honor that lives in these soldiers. No. I do not like war and never will. But if there must be war and warriors, may the guiding principles of honor prevail. Here is what is required of those who guard the Tomb of the Unknown soldier – twenty-fours hours a day since 1930.
They must commit two years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives.
The first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone, nor watch TV.
They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way. After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb.
The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin.
There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.
All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred.
In 2003 as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington DC , the US Senate and House took two days off in anticipation of the storm. Because of the dangers from the hurricane, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment.
They respectfully declined the offer, ‘No way, Sir!’ Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a serviceperson.
I pray for peace. I will always pray for peace and oppose war. But if there must be war, may it be guided by a code of honor. For there’s not much of that in our wars and military or political leadership these days. Not much at all.
Judith – firstname.lastname@example.org